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Man Faces Charges After Alleged Lawmaker Scuffle

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FORT PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A Minnesota man accused of wielding a knife inside a bar before being restrained by several South Dakota lawmakers appeared in court Tuesday to face charges that could land him in prison for up to 15 years.

Mark Bardwell, 41, of Zimmerman, Minn., is charged with simple and aggravated assault for the alleged scuffle at a Fort Pierre bar last weekend. A judge continued his bond at $10,000 and set a Nov. 18 preliminary hearing.

Aside from a nick to state Rep. Brian Gosch’s finger, no one was hurt. But it still made for a heck of a bar story, the lawmakers said.

“It’s not what I expected to be doing on a peaceful Friday evening,” South Dakota House Speaker Val Rausch, a Republican from Big Stone City, told The Associated Press.

In Tuesday’s brief court hearing, Bardwell, dressed in jail-issued orange-and-white garb, said he hasn’t been able to contact a lawyer since he’s been in jail. Circuit Judge John Brown said Bardwell can afford to hire his own attorney and said he would need one before the preliminary hearing, which will determine whether Bardwell is bound over for trial.

The aggravated assault charge is a Class 3 felony carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. The simple assault charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Rausch and some other state legislators were in Fort Pierre for a pheasant hunt to raise scholarship money to events sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization.

After a banquet at the AmericInn Lodge and Suites, the group gathered at the motel bar. Rep. Kristin Conzet, R-Rapid City, told the Rapid City Journal that a man who had been drinking there approached her and said, “The three sons are coming. Prepare yourself.”

House Majority Leader David Lust of Rapid City said the man went back to a corner of the bar, and Conzet told the other lawmakers about the encounter.

“When I turned to him, he pulled out his knife and was kind of waving it down by his belly, just clearly showing that he had a knife,” Lust said. “I said, ‘Hey, buddy, is that a knife?'”

Lust said the man put the knife back in a sheath, but then walked up and took a swing at Rausch, who ducked the punch.

“I pounced on him and wanted to get his right arm up in the air to make sure he couldn’t get to the knife,” Lust said.

Lust and others said they wrestled the man to the ground. Lust said Gosch, R-Rapid City, who as speaker pro tem is next in line to become speaker, tried unsuccessfully to get the knife out of the sheath, but cut himself in trying. Someone else got the knife and threw it away, Lust said.

Law enforcement officers soon arrived and arrested Bardwell.

“I’m half tempted to go see the guy. I think he was under the influence of something and he made a bad decision,” Lust said. “He wasn’t slashing or stabbing or anything like that.”

Stanley County State’s Attorney Tom P. Maher said the assault charges were filed by the arresting officer. Charges could be added or reduced as the case proceeds.

That state legislators are potentially on the witness list shouldn’t factor into how the case is handled, Lust said.

“It shouldn’t have any bearing on how aggressively he’s prosecuted or how he’s sentenced,” he said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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